By Karen Stahl
Faith Newsome’s heartbeat increased as she gazed at her family crammed around her. The bare, gray walls stared back at her.
“Tell him to get the IV out,” she told her mom. “I’m scared. I don’t want to do this.”
Her mom, Shannon Newsome, looked at Faith’s thin gown hanging on her body and the cap containing her thick, brown curls. She knew her 16-year-old daughter faced death if she did not undergo the surgery.
“Think about how hard you’ve worked to get to this moment,” Shannon said. “If you give up now, what was it for?”
Three hours later, the doctor made it to Faith’s room. Her mother, wracked with nerves, gave her a kiss. Within minutes, Faith was asleep.
She had always been larger than her peers. On her first birthday, she hit 30 pounds. When kindergarten came, she walked into school at 110 pounds with a smile on her face and her brown curls tied in a bow.
By the time she turned 15, Faith had reached 273 pounds.
Just a few months before her surgery, she sat in the Campbell University gymnasium, supporting her brother at the North Carolina Science Olympiad competition. The gymnasium was built in the 1950s, and the seats seemed smaller than average.
She shifted her weight as the side handles on the seat pressed uncomfortably into her thighs. Her mom had brought up weight-loss surgery a couple weeks before, but she resisted.
Now, unable to fit in the gymnasium seat, she knew what she had to do. She turned to her mom.
“Call Duke,” she said. “I’m going next week.”
Faith’s eyes fluttered open. Her family sat in the room, this one larger than the bare, gray one where she had fallen asleep.
“Did you text my friends that I’m okay?” she asked Shannon, who was hovering over her.
“That’s what you’re worried about right now?” she responded.
At the suggestion of the doctor, Faith decided to get up and walk around to avoid blood clots. She slowly lowered herself to the ground. Her abdomen felt heavier than before the surgery, despite the fact that the surgeon had reduced the size of her stomach.
A commercial for a Ruby Tuesday hamburger came on the TV while she walked around the room.
“I’m going to throw up,” she thought.
She knew her appetite would come back eventually, but minutes after the operation, waves of nausea washed over her. All she could think about was not rupturing her stomach.
It was June, which meant two months of recovery before returning for her junior year of high school. With newfound confidence in her body, she decided this was the year to try an organized sport.
Tennis tryouts were approaching, and she would make a full recovery before the season started.
For the first time, Faith promised herself she would be there.
She hit the ground without warning.
Faith was goal-oriented, and the instructions were easy enough – run to the cone at the end of the relay track, put on the oversized adult clothes as quickly as possible, run back down the track and tag the next teammate.
She took a deep breath at the starting line, trying to release the pressure that came with being the slowest child in her class. Her weight made field days increasingly anxiety-inducing, and the other kindergartners had already made it clear that Faith was not their most valuable player.
And they were off. Sweat poured down her temples as she lunged forward with every step.
“Why does she have to be on our team?” one of the children shouted from the sideline.
Breathing heavily, Faith kept running. She made it to the cone. She quickly grabbed the oversized T-shirt and slid it over her damp curls then pulled the pants over her shorts and bolted for the end of the track.
Her determined panting underscored a sudden snag of her pants on her shoe. Before she knew it, she was tumbling into the grass in the middle of the track.
She got back up with determination and hiked the pants up. She felt the scrape on her knee as she crossed the finish line back with her teammates, putting them in last place.
Faith sat behind the line and placed her flushed face in her hands. Her mom quietly ran up.
“You just tripped,” she said. “If you wouldn’t have tripped, you would’ve done great.”
Faith fiddled with a piece of grass on her shoe.
“I know, Mom,” she responded. “If I wouldn’t have fallen, I’d made it. I really feel like I would’ve made it.”
Sweat poured down her temples as she lunged forward with every step. She was determined to be faster than her 5K time from the day before.
“Show yourself what you can do now,” she thought.
It was nearly five years post-surgery, and her 190-pound frame propelled itself on the pavement. Her familiar panting filled the warm September air. This time, Faith’s brown curls were damp with sweat, but she was not in last place.
“She always tries to get me to run with her,” her friend, Olivia Manning, said. “I’m not a runner. So I let Faith handle that.”
Faith’s head was clear. The crippling anxiety that plagued her as child melted away. She was no longer faking sprained ankles in elementary school gym class to get out of physical activity.
Now, she listens to her body and its needs. She pushes herself beyond her boundaries.
“She is going to stick with it until she gets it,” said Jonathan Newsome, her dad. “No matter what it is.”
Faith is no longer the girl begging to rip the IV out of her arm in fear. Faith is no longer retreating.
Faith is lunging forward with every new task that comes her way.
“Surgery is what gave me my voice,” she said. “Make the most of your time here. Show yourself what you can do.”
Edited by Joseph Held